Though Frances Steloff has been dead for nearly twenty years, her orbit looms large in Saratoga Springs, the city of her birth, as the Saratoga Post-Star’s Lisa Bramen uncovers. Steloff left the city when she was 12 – famously founding the Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan in 1920 – she kept strong ties to the city throughout her life. In 1968, the year after Skidmore College awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Steloff endowed an annual lecture series and poetry prize there. She later donated a collection of rare books, many first editions inscribed to her by the authors.
Steloff sold Gotham Book Mart in 1967, and those who knew her are glad she wasn’t around to see the store go under, but also lament that another bookseller like Steloff is not likely to come around again. “The name Frances Steloff doesn’t mean anything to most of the students or even the younger faculty,” said Robert Boyers, director of Skidmore College’s Summer Writer’s Institute and organizer of the annual Steloff Lecture. “It;s just a lecture series to them. I think it’s lovely that once a year we honor a great writer and at the bottom of the program there are a couple of paragraphs about Frances Steloff. That can’t begin to convey what the bookstore meant to people. It’s something, but it’s not much.”